Retail Roundtable: Consumer buy-in

Retail industry communications leaders gathered in Minneapolis to discuss how social engagement has changed all aspects of the customer's shopping experience.

Retail industry communications leaders joined Gideon Fidelzeid in Minneapolis for this Carmichael Lynch Spong-hosted roundtable to discuss how social engagement has changed all aspects of the customer's shopping experience, including the ways brands approach them.

Participants
Stacy Anderson, CMO, Anytime Fitness
Emily Buchanan, senior principal, and Chair, Social Engagement and Brand Marketing, Carmichael Lynch Spong
Ann Carr, EVP/GM, Mars – The Shopper Marketing Agency
Eric Hausman, senior group PR manager, Target
Jeff Haydock, director of PR and communications, Best Buy
Dan Jasper, VP of PR, Mall of America
Chad Latz, president, global digital practice, Cohn & Wolfe
Katie McBreen, VP of communications and public affairs, National Retail Federation
Pat Milan, EVP/chief creative officer, Tunheim

Mobile movement
Gideon Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
How is mobile forcing retailers to rethink their outreach strategy?

Emily Buchanan (Carmichael Lynch Spong): The trends we've seen indicate how mobile is enhancing the in-store experience, as well as making it easier to interact with retailers outside the store. Many retailers are using mobile to serve very practical functions.

Dan Jasper (Mall of America): Especially during the holidays, our guests' biggest concern is parking and traffic. Our mobile website shows where parking is available at the mall. During the holiday season, we tweeted live – every single hour – where the best parking is and the best way to get into and out of the Mall of America. We even had a big, secret-parking party to grow our Twitter base.

On the busiest shopping day of the year, the Saturday before Christmas, we had 90 of our closest parking spots available for our Twitter followers, gave them gift bags, and were able to follow up with some research. We built ambassadors that will live with us forever.

Katie McBreen (National Retail Federation [NRF]): Our recently released Social and Mobile Commerce Report shows that between Q2 2012 and 2013, mobile commerce grew 24%, compared to eCommerce, which just grew 16%.

Retailers are making their mobile sites and apps friendlier to customers because consumers want to buy from their phones. Look at some pure-play companies, such as One Kings Lane, where over 50% of shopping is done on a mobile device.

Chad Latz (Cohn & Wolfe): It's also interesting to see that trend in different markets. In Beijing, mobile commerce is growing 85% year-on-year. It's disrupting the entire retail commerce model in terms of what's going on in brick-and-mortar stores.

Buchanan (Carmichael): I saw a recent statistic that indicated as high as 19% of Chinese consumers have used their mobile to buy.

Eric Hausman (Target): Mobile is a game-changer in so many different ways. It's no longer about what's happening online and offline. It's all happening together. How you break out online sales and in-store sales is blurring and mobile is a major part of it.

It's really hard to tell when we have guests in our stores who are shopping and might want to see if there's another color online. Maybe they did some research at home, came in with their app, and then the app helped them find where the product is. Maybe they saw a review online and then chose to buy something in-store. Maybe they bought an add-on online? Where can you draw the line between what is the online and offline sale? It's changing everything we do from a PR perspective.

It can be things such as ensuring our sites have responsive design. Making sure people can read our content from whatever device they're looking at. Ensuring consumers have the apps and tools to do their research and purchasing.

An example I often use is Cartwheel [Target's “social” coupon savings program]. A lot of people view it as part of our online sales, but in reality, it's a tool you're using online, but you're buying something in the store. Is that an online or offline sale?

McBreen (NRF): Macy's used to report separately and just stopped. It said you really can't make a distinction between in-store and online.

Jeff Haydock (Best Buy): Best Buy just relaunched its loyalty program. It was Rewards Zone, now it's My Best Buy. We combined our loyalty website, which is 40 million people, with BestBuy.com. Now when those people go into a store, they can check in to get extra incentives, extra points. We know when they're in the store. That's a big new facet of the My Best Buy program.

Latz (C&W): A consumer could have a positive or negative experience with in-store personnel. The inclination to go right to social media and share a perspective becomes a pretty important consideration with regards to mobile engagement.

Stacy Anderson (Anytime Fitness): Retail is about facilitating a transaction and giving people information they need, which is such a functional approach to mobile. In fitness, we all joke that if you worked out and didn't tell somebody on Facebook, does it count?

People have mobile with them all the time and they're tracking. We use it as a communications tool because 80% of your [fitness-related activity] happens outside the gym – what you're eating, for example.

We use mobile as a constant coaching platform and tool that keeps us connected all the time. It also helps create those shareable moments.

Hausman (Target): From a social perspective, we want to be part of the conversation. We spent a lot of time at the Emmys recently tweeting and being a major part of those pop culture moments – and that's really important. You see a commercial or maybe something interesting that happened on the show itself, then tweet about it.

Pat Milan (Tunheim): The question used the term “forcing,” which is telling. It's still so early right now, everyone's been forced to develop mobile tactics. It reminds me of watching Mad Men and seeing TV evolve and they're taking newspaper tactics to TV and radio. We haven't figured out mobile yet.

Mall of America's use of mobile really made sense. At some point, we will all catch our breath and really innovate. Cartwheel is a good example.

I use Waze, the social GPS. I was driving around recently and was within a mile of a Taco Bell and an offer popped up. They knew where I was, they knew where they were, they made an offer. Innovation is happening, but a lot of what is being done comes through the lens of “forced.” 

Jasper (Mall of America): We had a lot of good mobile experiences that proved successful with our consumers. We developed a program where we have signs in the restrooms, food courts, and other areas that say, “Cleanliness issues? Text this number. Something we should know?”

About three years ago, before we started this, if this issue came up, it could take a week before we'd respond in full. Now it's instantaneous.

Ann Carr (Mars – The Shopper Marketing Agency): A recent Google Shopper Marketing Agency Council survey on mobile's impact on shopping highlighted the importance of the pre-store discovery process. Every retailer has built these great tools and websites, but the research consumers do even earlier than when they use those tools or visit those sites is transforming the entire shopping experience.

The key marketing question now becomes: How do you get further up the sales funnel to start directing people when they're searching and trying to decide what store they will ultimately choose to shop?

McBreen (NRF): The retailers that are doing it well come from the perspective that retail is retail. It doesn't matter if it's couch commerce or on my tablet or mobile device. As a consumer, you feel as if you're getting a personalized interaction if the message is the right one coming from the corporate brand.

Take a company such as Tory Burch, where it's her actual Instagram feed, her Twitter feed, and she's interacting with her customers. No matter where they are in the world, they feel a personal, local-type feeling when they interact with her brand.

Physical presence
Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
As digital channels grow in importance, where do brick-and-mortar stores fit into the equation?

Anderson (Anytime Fitness): The new way to form brands is to focus on authenticity, personal connections, and hyper-localism. A brand's voice isn't that of the CEO. It's not mine. It's the voice of our franchisees in the various markets. Yes we can create the basic framework within which people can work, but they must be able to add their own local angle on it.

That's the new, authentic, and transparent way to build brands, despite decentralization of social media channels or customer experience.

Buchanan (Carmichael): The number-one issue brands have with decentralization is giving up that control. Can an hourly employee really be trusted to convey the brand in the right way? Can message consistency really happen among store employees who are on their feet all day? It comes down to trust. That is the key factor to keep the brand voice alive.

Hausman (Target): Personalization is where a lot of this will go, whether that means having somebody tweeting from a store or opening an app to see what's going on in a store.

In terms of the brick-and-mortar stores, they remain our greatest assets, though they will certainly evolve and might exist a bit differently than they do today.

Milan (Tunheim): Where do brick-and-mortar stores fit in? Simply put: they damn well better. About 70% of Fortune 500 companies in 2003 aren't on the list this year. Most people will attribute it to “digital Darwinism,” which means they became so big, but their inability to adapt with the pace of technology caused them to fall apart under their own weight.

You have no choice. You have to integrate the brick-and-mortar locations into your social strategy in a major way. And everyone needs to own it. If only one owns it that becomes a recipe for true disaster down the road.

Latz (C&W): There are many other considerations from the vantage point of engagement metrics and share of voice. If you have engagement, in a broader sense, across the entire franchised organization in multiple markets, you will have a more local experience and a bigger and stronger share of voice. That's where guidelines and essence around the brand needs to be effectively conveyed. Not in a way that controls or dictates a particular experience, but in a way that gives slight guidelines in terms of keeping people in the character.

Jasper (Mall of America): We have a fun culture and a strong voice for Mall of America – and it's all about building one-on-one relationships.

Our challenge is that when people have a great experience at the mall, it's often in association with the specific retailer. When they have a negative experience, the focus is often the mall itself. We must really work with our tenants and brands to solve those issues on messaging and voice, but it's hard when we have 520 stores and 50 restaurants.

Haydock (Best Buy): We have 145,000 employees, many in their early- to mid-20s. They're on social media, in our stores, and they always have their phones with them. We want those people to be ambassadors for the brand. And the reality is, when a new product comes out they are as passionate about it as the customers are, so we want them to be active.

Some of our stores have their own Twitter handles, some don't. We have 1,000 stores, 400 Best Buy Mobile stores, and we really want them all to have that local connection – and social is a great way to do it.

Carr (Mars): The power of what happens locally and on social media is so much greater than something blasted from headquarters. This whole world of omni-channel retailing – whether via catalogue, pop-up store, retail store, or online – will increasingly become the way we all do business. Brick-and-mortar stores will be a very critical piece of a much more dynamic retail world proposition.

Hausman (Target): We love to see guests engage with each other on our social channels, even answering each other's questions. When there's a design collaboration in one of our stores that's selling fast and we're seeing people say, “I saw it at this location” and they're helping each other, it doesn't get better than that.

And while our guests are among our top advocates, so are the 300,000 team members in our stores who can advocate for us in so many different ways.

Carr (Mars): With this next generation of in-store employees, there will be new sets of employment agreements. How to responsibly engage in social when you're representing the company will be a chief factor. We have to explain how we want it done, but we also must actively encourage it. It's a whole infrastructure of brand advocacy that retailers will need.

Haydock (Best Buy): The role of internal communications is so vital. Employees can say what they want, but if they have a foundation in terms of a belief in where the company is going or a set of messages that people align to, it helps provide needed direction.

Drawing from data
Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
What insights are retailers deriving from the massive amounts of data they are collecting from consumers? How is it helping inform strategy?

Carr (Mars): Share of voice is a good place to start, followed by the quality and content of what's being discussed. There are really sophisticated tools to measure all of it and there are some really interesting things you can learn, especially if your share of voice is really low in a particular medium relative to one of your competitors or perhaps you are really drawing males, but you need to draw females.

Milan (Tunheim): The first consideration is what data you want to collect, what should you ethically collect, and how you will use it. The audience from whom you collect the data is a key factor. My kids, for example, are 25 and younger. They have absolutely no expectation of privacy. They know everything they do is out there for everybody. My wife, on the other hand, has every expectation of lock-tight privacy.

They will both log in to a site and offer up information about themselves. How do we manage that? We need to figure it out quickly because the data we collect will help us enhance the consumer experience because we are collecting it at a really interesting moment in time.

McBreen (NRF): It's also important to educate consumers on what you're doing with that data and how it's helping improve their experience.

Milan (Tunheim): I belong to Anytime Fitness, so when things get pushed to me, I appreciate it because I have that relationship. If I weren't a member, though, and stuff got pushed to me saying, “Congratulations on your 22-mile ride this morning,” I'm thinking, “How did you know that and why?”

If you have a relationship with me, it's fine that you're collecting data on me and I'm happy you're getting better about what you're pushing toward me. If we don't have a relationship, though, this enters a weird stage.

Latz (C&W): We're typically looking at everything from demographic, psychographic, social graph, interest graph, and purchase graph. Our goal as marketers is to figure out how to deliver an experience that is as contextually relevant as possible to the consumer in a way that doesn't seem creepy.

With this cross section of data, you can get to a target audience size of one because you can have a really clear picture and set of insights about who your consumer is. Then it becomes a question of what content, what message, and how do you engage them in a way that builds that connection to the brand.

Buchanan (Carmichael): In a survey last year, we asked clients to identify the most confounding aspect of measurement and analytics. They all said, “We have too much data. We don't know how to translate it. We're not that interested in seeing data. We want actionable insights. Help us figure out a tool that will get us there.”

We did an audit of the top 25 tools out there. There are a lot of data tools, data-collection tools, but not a lot of folks gleaning insights out of it.

There's probably not one tool that fits all and you must offer a collection of tools. At that point, people must come in and provide those insights, analysis, and say, “How can this inform digital strategy or even help us change it mid-stream?”

Latz (C&W): Looking at this globally, you can have a common methodology structure and approach, but certain moderating tools and mechanisms for harvesting data in China will be different than in Italy, the US, or anywhere else.

Anderson (Anytime Fitness): I come at this from a very unique perspective because our company hasn't collected a ton of data, though that's changing. As such, we're asking a lot of questions on how we go about it. What do we really need to know? In the end, for us, it's not really name, age, or occupation. Rather, it's about family, interests, and dreams. That doesn't sound like the data most marketers talk about, but that's the data that gives you the insights that enable you to connect with people.

When we talk about segmentation, what I find most useful is social conversation.

There are moms who just had a baby and want to lose weight. They're talking about finding time to work out. There are the gym rats who just want to check in on Foursquare and tell everybody where they are and how much they lifted that day. That is real segmentation to me. It helps me market to a customer's lifestyle and what they really care about.

Anytime Fitness' purpose is to make people's lives better. How do I become an authentic part of that conversation? By knowing your challenges, your dreams. Those are usable insights for me that can easily get lost in these Big Data conversations.

McBreen (NRF): This is where Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, and all of these great social media channels are giving retailers insight into their customers that they never had before. It takes you into somebody's personal life that isn't about age or gender or how much you make every year.

Innovative tactics
Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
Identify some lesser-recognized platforms or tactics that have proven particularly effective for retailers.

Buchanan (Carmichael): Houzz is the number-one referring site for interior design ideas. Any home client would benefit greatly from it. It's an aspirational site. You see a beautiful living room, for example, and it can direct you to where you can buy the things you see. Wrapp is a social-gifting app that is gaining a lot of buzz, too.

Jasper (Mall of America): Our texting platform is unique and extremely successful at building one-on-one relationships with our guests. It starts when you enter from our parking ramps. You can text where you parked and we'll remind you. We'll remind you which stores to walk by to get back to your car and how to find it because that's the number-one question we get from guests. In addition to serving a very practical purpose, it helps us make connections.

We also use it to ask visitors if there is anything they feel we need to know. And some of the questions are totally weird, such as, “Did you know the lifespan of a fly is 15 hours?” Our response to that one:  “Let's hope they live it to the fullest.” The customer loved it. It's silly, but it builds that relationship.

Carr (Mars): Collective Bias is a social shopper media platform. It has 2,700 bloggers with a reach of 80 million who are arranged by the places at which they shop. We help clients come up with ways to blog about a new product being introduced at Walmart, Target, wherever. Collective Bias doesn't just send the bloggers something and have them blog about it. They actually have them go through the whole shopping experience and explain that, so readers can understand the path to purchase start to finish.

Latz (C&W): Platforms are plentiful and new ones emerge daily, so our focus turns to the content being created and the consumer engagement strategy. We seek to produce compelling content that can have a life and pull-through in multiple channels. The content itself must work harder for you.

We work with a mobile handset manufacturer that wanted to get across the message about its “superior imaging technologies.” We strapped the camera to the bottom of a drone and flew it through the forests in Canada. We fired a basketball at it at 90mph and did all sorts of interesting things to emphasize the durability.

Creative content that has a predisposition to be pitched and shared with influencers against verticals goes viral. It can then be utilized as an effective sales tool in retail to show consumers what the device is capable of. After that, other venues can be identified to see that content out into multiple markets.

Hausman (Target): People are aware of Pinterest and Vine, of course, but they are both still new enough that many unknowns still exist. We're trying a lot of different tactics with them. Some work, some don't, but we learn from all of them. And of course, there's A Bullseye View, our online magazine, to get deeper content about Target and platforms such as Cartwheel.

We did a Bullseye University this back-to-school season where we set up in dorm rooms and viewers could see the students interact. All the products were from Target. The engagement was fantastically high, as was the amount of time people actually spent watching it. Alas, we didn't sell a whole lot from it. However, incredible lessons came from it that will inform what we do next and how we innovate.

McBreen (NRF): Retailers aren't just producing product, they are producing content, and we're taking a cue from that. The NRF's currency isn't product, it's the retail industry we represent.

We have a new campaign, “This is Retail,” that is entirely content-based. We're trying to change the perception of the industry to show that it's not just about dead-end jobs, but rather about life-long careers. For example, you could be sitting at a roundtable such as this and talk about communications, but that's not what people think about regarding retail. They certainly don't think of retail as being on the forefront of innovation, even though retailers are innovating every day.

People want content. Video is the most-viewed piece of content. Retailers are taking cues from it, as are advocacy organizations such as the NRF. If you're not producing content, you're not effectively telling your story.

Carr (Mars): I was at Google recently and they talked about the power of YouTube and how consumers are creating their own media channels.

When you look to reach consumers today, particularly younger ones, it can't be done through TV alone. YouTube has become the biggest way to reach this younger generation. It is becoming the biggest channel and the second place everybody searches after Google.

Latz (C&W): A very unique and exciting platform in this conversation is wearable technology. Walgreens has a program that ties into its rewards points system. Basically, you can synchronize your Fitbit Flex and set up your account so the amount of physical activity you do generates rewards points to be redeemed at retail. What a wonderful way to reinforce a brand value proposition and drive consumer behavior.

Haydock (Best Buy): People in general underestimate retailers' influence and ability to impact change. For Best Buy, it is 1 billion visits to the website, hundreds of millions of visits to the store, and every one of those is an interaction with a customer. However, that interaction is a result of 24 to 36 months of work by people at corporate influencing what comes to market. People don't think about that when they're in a Best Buy, Target, or Walmart.

Q&A: Connecting with customers anytime

Prior to the roundtable, PRWeek managing editor Gideon Fidelzeid spoke to Chuck Runyon, CEO of Anytime Fitness – whose growth has been recently highlighted by Forbes and Fortune – about mobile's impact on outreach and the chief executive's role in defining a brand.

Gideon Fidelzeid: Digital channels have helped your club grow from one location in Cambridge, MN, when you began in May 2002 to the 2,300-plus clubs in all 50 states and 15 countries you have today. How do ensure the brick-and-mortar locations support your digital efforts and vice versa?

Chuck Runyon: In the club, people ultimately look for that sense of community, fun, and someone to care about them. Our club owners are really coaches.

But we really want to take Anytime Fitness to more of a touch-point model, which means that throughout the week, we're providing members virtual support, virtual tools, and virtual engagement so they can make healthy nutrition and activity choices that are complemented by visiting our locations a couple of times a week.

If we can create a deeper level of engagement with our members when they're not in our store, they'll be healthier, happier, and more appreciative of us. In turn, they'll stick around with us longer.

Our apps are a bit more do-it-yourself from a consumer perspective, but we're looking to changing the focus to make it more of a portal, a connection tool, between our trainers and members. We want to harness the passion of our local owners and trainers on mobile devices and bring that to our members even when they aren't in our clubs.

Fidelzeid: Do you incorporate the marketing playbook of major retailers into Anytime Fitness' strategy?

Runyon: I spend a couple of hours a day consuming data – and not necessarily for the fitness industry. I need to know how the best brands engage with their consumers. Our CMO, Stacy Anderson, came from Best Buy and Geek Squad and has phenomenal insights from those big companies.

I learn new things all the time, but I am obsessed with trying to discover what other brands are doing to engage their consumer inside and outside the store.

Fidelzeid: What is the CEO's role in defining a brand, particularly on social media?

Runyon: We are very focused on providing a great workplace culture. I believe in exercise. I believe in having healthy, happy, and productive employees. If I want my employees to work out at our on-site club, they better see me in there on occasion, leading by example.

It's really no different with social media. I need to pick a platform and show my team that I'm on social media. However, I need to keep in mind all the various shareholders – employees, franchisees, and consumers – and put out messaging for all those parties.

When I'm thinking about content, I focus on small-business ownership, leadership, education, maybe some inspiration, a sense of fun, and definitely a personal touch. I try to be on-brand with that, but I realize that some of it has to be about me as well.

At the end of the day, I realize that the Millennials connected to Anytime Fitness are very into social media and read every single tweet I put out there. Our franchise owners read every single tweet.

And for the record, I also have an Instagram account, as weird as it might be for a 44-year-old dad with two kids, ages 13 and 10.

Fidelzeid: Whether broadly speaking or specifically about your company, how is mobile being used to bolster relationships with existing and potential consumers?

Runyon: We have 2,300 clubs in our system and many members can use any of our clubs anywhere. With a simple app, you can find the nearest Anytime Fitness to where you are. Very basic, but such a powerful way mobile brings customers and brands together and it's the most common way our members are using our mobile app.

Then there is Anytime Health – our official website. We are still working to blend that online community with our Anytime Fitness community and find a way to harness the personal touch. For example, if you're in a different state, we're looking to develop a way to let the local trainer know you're there. How cool would it be if you can walk into a facility anywhere and the trainer is waiting for you? Or maybe you're out at dinner. You can take a picture of your meal and send it to us and we can offer some meal coaching or some type of support around the clock, not just when you're in the club. Basically, we think mobile works best when it facilitates that personal relationship.

Fidelzeid: You often speak about the importance of Anytime Fitness' culture. Why is that such an important asset for your brand?

Runyon: Anytime Fitness has received dozens of accolades over the last 11 years, but our favorite was being named among the top 100 best companies to work for by Minnesota Business magazine.

On one hand, if we want our clubs to have a certain culture, we need to lead by example, right? On the other hand, we're all obsessed with the consumer experience, which is really important, of course. However, I spend as much time thinking about the employee experience and the franchisee experience. How can we expect our consumers to love our brand if our employees don't, right?

No retailer should solely focus on doing great by consumers and not employees. As CEO, I want to provide the best employee experience possible. As for franchisees, they are our conduits to consumers, so I better provide a phenomenal franchisee experience, too.

I know content and social media are huge topics of interest now – as they should be. However, if my employees and/or franchisees aren't happy, it doesn't matter how great our mobile app is. But speaking of social media, you need to make sure you are using those channels to speak to employees and franchisees about the brand. Social media is an opportunity to not just engage consumers, but all the stakeholders across the board.

Fidelzeid: How can a retail brand make that culture consistently tangible on all of its properties?

Runyon: That's a huge challenge, but it's a major focus of ours right now. Our team has spent a great deal of time over the last year meeting with focus groups, doing member segmentation, and really trying to find out what our members care about and how they describe us.

Armed with that information, we will operationalize it in every single touchpoint. We're decentralized, so an additional challenge is making sure our franchisees are executing all these touchpoints.

Fidelzeid: You just mentioned focus groups – a very traditional tactic a lot of retailers have used to understand what their customers are thinking about them and their sectors. Live focus groups are certainly not as widely used any longer. Are such traditional tactics still part of your strategy?

Runyon: For our first nine or 10 years, we didn't do many focus groups. In truth, we didn't use a lot of science in terms of data collection. Over the last 18 months or so, however, our team has taken a much more scientific approach.

Focus groups, in truth, didn't create some epiphany for us. They reinforced what we already knew, but when a member or consumer says something, it shows they buy into what you're doing – and that's incredibly reassuring.

Engaging your customer base, whether through focus groups or other means, to learn what they like, don't like, and what they have to say about competitors has proven so worthwhile.

I'd also like to mention here our Anytime Health site. We just spoke about the importance of listening to consumers. That site enables members to ask questions of our trainers, club owners, and so on – and they all respond directly. It's a wonderful and unique platform where everyone gets involved. As for me, I read that almost every morning with my cup of coffee. It's an incredible window into what our customers want and I funnel that information directly into our strategy. It helps me deploy resources more effectively.

Good deal?
Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
Daily deals are prevalent in the retail world, but how do you avoid overemphasis on deals to the point where it shifts the focus away from your brand identity?

Haydock (Best Buy): Twelve or 18 months ago, we would simply use Twitter to tweet out deals that were coming in. We are evolving that to drive more of the conversation. It's less about a Samsung phone or what that $50 off is. There's a Best Buy handle and a Best Buy Deals handle to handle that kind of stuff.

On a practical level, of course we have connections with the deal sites. We make sure they know what we've got going on an informal basis.

Hausman (Target): Our social media sites continue to evolve in line with what are consumers are looking for. We have multiple handles. We will continue to create and push out the kinds of content consumers want to be engaged in. If it makes sense to have a site focused on deals, we'll do that.

Carr (Mars): Retailers will always have values and deals and consumers know where to get them. The key is devising a creative content-generating way to get a deal.

I recall hearing about one burger joint that asked consumers to de-friend five friends on Facebook in order to get the free coupon or a hamburger. It was hilarious. Pepsi recently had a machine that you had to “like” on Facebook and only then would a sample come out. In Singapore, Coke had machines that would give you product for a hug.

Deals are out there, but they are being presented in ways that reinforce brand equities. They are also done in ways that are unforgettable, inspiring, and fun. Consumers walk away from the experience and feel differently.

You even see it in outdoor advertising. In Europe, you can use your mobile phone to play games on a giant billboard and if you win, you can go directly to that retailer for a product.

McBreen (NRF): You see it in the apparel industry where companies partner with well-known bloggers. They'll offer a 20% off code with their bloggers, but the offer is enhanced by the emotional attachments people have with the bloggers they follow. These are people consumers feel they know. They interact with them on Twitter and Instagram.

These partnerships involve deals, they move product, but the companies also get great brand ambassadors out of it.

Buchanan (Carmichael): These examples all prove that if new content is relevant to their lives, consumers don't care if it's sponsored or branded.

Milan (Tunheim): A danger in too closely associating any brand to a coupon or deal site is that consumers have moved a long way from buying brands. They now buy into brands.

Latz (C&W): “Affordability” is a term that demonstrates sensitivity to the consumer. It builds that emotional connection with a brand. It's something deal sites and similar offerings can focus on.

Anderson (Anytime Fitness): As a marketer, I struggle to find the right balance between “snag and drag,” which are my efforts to get people to join, and building value.

My philosophy has long been that when there are a lot of people in the market, such as holiday time for retailers, shame on me if I don't do my best to hook them in. While I don't want that to be my everyday strategy, there are certainly one or two times a year where value, deals, and price really matter most and need to be central in outreach efforts.

And as someone who works with numerous franchisees, I always come across a situation where some of them would never offer discounts, while others will do so because they want more people in their clubs.

Jasper (Mall of America): We have a different perspective because we have 520 entities we work with. Often, brands that aren't very sophisticated want to push 20% or 30% off, but there's a line. We don't necessarily want to do that. For us, it's about adding value – and that comes mostly from building a relationship with that person.

We've recently begun a new training technique with our phone operators and social media people. If someone calls to ask where a particular retailer is, we want them to say something like this, “This is the location, but can I help you find where to park? What are you looking for? Can I give you some advice?” We've then partnered with a handful of our retailers that offer special deals that can only be gotten through that phone operator or social media person. It basically forces them to give deals only after a relationship has been formed. We call it “surprise and delight.”

We've engaged in a relationship-building conversation, but we – along with the retailers – also track when we've made a recommendation and when it's been used, so this also helps in terms of measuring results.

McBreen (NRF): If a retailer offers, say, 15% off to a consumer who likes a page on Facebook or comes to watch a special event on Facebook, it's a deal offer that further builds the brand with an obviously invested consumer.

The holidays
Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
How has social media changed the game in terms of the holiday shopping season?

Hausman (Target): Everything we discussed today in terms of digital will be more evident than ever before. The research consumers do online. The way retailers interact with consumers in the store, as well as the way consumers interact with each other, whether it's about finding a great deal at a great location or buying something online and picking it up in a store, which has become much more prevalent.

Anderson (Anytime Fitness): Last year, Best Buy had a Twitter effort that had consumers tweeting as they were waiting in line during Black Friday. You could get instant gift cards for tweeting about being on line. It started trending on Twitter immediately. It was a really cool engagement initiative and it's such a shareable moment.

For Anytime Fitness, our holiday is January, when people commit to fitness-related resolutions. Digital will play a key role for us as we seek to mobilize our advocates. I would say 70% of our business is driven by referrals and recommendations, so offers such as members-only benefits that pull other people into the clubs because they have a connection with someone who already belongs will be a key strategy.

Latz (C&W): A recent survey [by Experian Marketing Services] noted than nearly half of marketers planned to launch their holiday campaigns before Halloween this year. However, while mobile commerce and ad spend is expected to grow during the holiday this year, that survey ranked the priority of the mobile ad format with marketers below other channels, specifically online display and email. Nearly 50% intend to use social to promote product in some capacity. This isn't to say that mobile will be ignored, but that other formats will be optimized for the mobile platform."

As marketers and communicators, we know there are a greater number of people actually connecting to social through their mobile devices. In a Cyber Monday environment, where a lot more purchasing takes place online, it's happening when I'm sitting at my computer or in front of my TV, as opposed to, for example, utilizing mobile as decision support in the brick-and-mortar retail environment.

Carr (Mars): Last year, Sam's Club had a VIP event that was exclusive and off-hours. The big idea was to truly take care of its most loyal brand lovers.

Another interesting initiative came from the Samsung Galaxy S4 launch in New Zealand. Everyone complains about long lines, so it had a virtual offering where people on Facebook could get in line and the more they tweeted about the features of the phone, the further up the line they could go.

Milan (Tunheim): For our client Broadway at the Beach [a shopping center and entertainment complex in South Carolina], the holiday shopping season is actually off-season because it thrives on tourism. So an idea we have around the holiday season is to get people to share the most inspiring things that happened to them this year at the venue, pick 12, and give them rewards to come back.

We'll create a lot of activity around what is typically off-season and spark people to start thinking about coming back during the on-season.

Jasper (Mall of America): We'll continue our Twitter parking program, as well as our “surprise and delight” efforts. In fact, they'll be enhanced for the holidays. For example, if you tweet during the holiday shopping season, we will surprise and delight you with a gift card, passes, or a free cup of coffee or hot chocolate – working with our retail partners, of course.

Our research indicates Mall of America visitors during the holiday shopping season fit into three groups. The first one is the casual sightseers who come early during the season to get ideas. The second one consists of families on a mission, armed with lists and ready to buy. The third is the “Oh my God, it's December 24” group.

We're developing a social application where you choose which of those three you are, answer a handful of basic questions, and we'll give you customized ideas and suggestions that will make your experience more efficient and pleasant.

McBreen (NRF): Our holiday forecast came out [on October 3]. Retailers are optimistic about the holiday season. We project 3.9% growth, which is just over the 3.5% actual growth of last year. Consumers have been incredibly resilient throughout the recession and their spending has really been driving the economy.

People want great value and unbeatable prices. To that end, retailers will be promotional. They will price-match. They will offer law-away. They will emphasize free shipping, something consumers particularly love during the holiday season.

Haydock (Best Buy): Value is more than just the price of the product; it's the experience. We will focus heavily on providing that great experience to all customers, with an emphasis on My Best Buy, our 40 million loyal brand shoppers, and giving them access to exclusive products and deals throughout the holidays.

Buchanan (Carmichael): Our CPG clients are acting more like retailers in how they're engaging during the holiday season and helping drive traffic for their particular product into the retail locations.

There's a sense that even if consumers are either not spending or being very mindful of their spending, they will indulge a bit more during the holiday season. As such, CPG clients should take advantage of that. CPG companies, realizing the need to get in on the holiday shopping frenzy, are emphasizing efforts that happen in a timeframe that matches the retail schedule.

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